The first downloadable content for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a neat extension to the game for those who’ve exhausted its considerable pleasures, but ultimately just an appetiser to tide you over until the real meat – The Champion’s Ballad – lands this Christmas.
At the heart of the expansion is the Trial of the Sword, a multi-tiered test of your combat ability with more than a passing resemblance to one of the standout segments of the main game, Eventide Island. That locale stripped players of their items, weapons and armour, and tasked them with rebuilding their capacity from scratch: desperately foraging for food to heal hearts, stalking weak enemies to kill and steal weapons from, and ultimately taking out a Hirox, the one-eyed giants more generally seen as a world boss roaming around Hyrule.
It worked because it condensed all the magic of the opening hours of the game into one tight experience, while also demanding that players use the knowledge they’d garnered in the dozens of hours that followed.
The Master Trials offer a similar set of emotions. A set of three multi-tiered challenges, they start simple (just a few bokoblins sitting around a campfire) and progress to become fearsomely challenging (fighting a Hinox in a pitch black room five levels deeper than the last cooking pot you saw). Each of the challenges begins with Link stripped to his underwear, and ends with him almost regaining his prior power levels – provided he doesn’t die on the way.
Unlike Eventide Island, though, players will find themselves dying a lot. The Trials fiercely limit healing items, and only offer up a cooking pot every five or so floors, ensuring that every single hit conceded feels like a painful body blow. Similarly, some of the levels – which shake up the layout every five levels or so, shifting from a forest to pitch black ruins to a water-filled combat shrine – are straightforwardly hard. Taking on two guardian scouts at the same time would be very difficult at the best of times, let alone with a limited number of weapons and weak armour.
Less welcome is a related choice for the trials: there’s no saves, and no checkpoints. Die once, and you’re kicked out to start the whole thing again. It certainly ups the stakes, and for many the meaningful deaths will add another layer of frisson to the Trial. But it’s frustrating as hell to make it one floor from the end, die, and have to spend 50 minutes working back through floors you already cleared.
And even if there’s no checkpoints, the option to save and quit would have been welcome. Sometimes you just want to take a break and play some Mario Kart, you know? No dice. At least the Switch has a solid sleep function, letting you pause the game and go to bed/get off the bus and resume where you left off.
Elsewhere, the Master Trials expansion is largely quality of life improvements and a small dose of fan-service. The Heroes Path, a new feature that lets you see your past journey drawn on the map, is a joy for completists, letting them easily see where they haven’t yet explored; similarly, the Korok Mask, which vibrates the controller when the collectible Korok Seeds are nearby, is a must-have to even approach finding all 900.
But neither of them, nor the other items added (Majora’s Mask, Tingle’s outfit, armour from the Phantom Hourglass, and other callbacks to previous Zelda games) amount to a significant amount of content. The items are dropped in chests littered across Hyrule, and it’s a simple fetch quest to get them. Most are immediately obvious, and those that aren’t – like the Korok Mask – are frustratingly obscured, not enjoyably hidden.
It’s not a treasure hut, it’s a slog. Given you’re supposed to be finding long-lost heirlooms of Hyrule’s past, it’s a bit of a let down when you wander through a forest for an hour before finding a shiny treasure chest sitting in a tree.
Once you’ve finished the Trial of the Sword, you’re mostly done with the DLC. It’s hard to work out if that represents good value, though, because the content is only available through a £20 season pass, tied with The Champion’s Ballad, December’s update. For that, Nintendo promises a new storyline, and a standalone dungeon. If it pays off, the Master Trials could prove to be a nice amuse-bouche. But the wait is already killing me.